I’ve been thinking about getting a dog.
What I really want, of course, is a cat. But I can’t have one because my special manfriend is allergic and he will die. I’m entirely disinterested in fish, and birds, and ferrets, and boa constrictors, and lizards, and hedgehogs, and I know lots of people who like their dogs, and so the decision seemed pretty simple: get a dog.
But the second I settled on getting a dog, my head exploded all over again with the sheer number of options. What size? How furry? What temperament? How old? How active? Would there ever be a situation when I needed my livestock corralled?
A friend sent me to a few different websites, which have you enter information about your own lifestyle and then it spits out the kind of dog you should get. My results indicated I should get a very large, very lazy dog, and even whittled it down to a dozen different breeds.
That was a couple of months ago, and since then I’ve basically been paralyzed with indecision. I understand that this is a big decision, that I must make it knowing the welfare of this living being will be entrusted to me, that it is a commitment for life, and as I’m sure many of us do, I’ve taken it so seriously I don’t want to take it at all.
Back in 2005, psychologist Barry Schwartz gave a Ted Talk entitled, “The Paradox of Choice,” which I listened to this week. In it, he points out “the official dogma of all Western societies…runs like this: if we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom…if people have freedom, each of us can act on our own to maximize our welfare and no one has to decide on our behalf.” Within minutes, he laid it out: more choice means more freedom means more welfare — until there’s so much choice the paralysis of indecision steps in.
“The key to happiness,” he concluded, “is low expectations.”
He also indicated we should stop beating ourselves up for not making the perfect decision when there are so many to choose from.
Armed with this information, I stopped taking dog/owner personality quizzes and just went online to the humane society to look at dogs. Only one fell into the “large/lazy” category, thankfully, and so I drove there and wandered the pens trying to figure out which one he was. I found him immediately and we stared at each other, both of our heads tipped, and topped with wild blonde messes. We took a walk together and quickly realizing neither of us was perfect. I would probably be too impatient, and he would probably be too interested in smelling dog poo. Somehow, that felt right.
I don’t know if I will win the bid for this guy, but I do know that I can finally relax. No decision is perfect except the decision to try to love somebody else.